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Safety Tips to Avoid Tripping Up Your Hiking Trips

hikers in the forest
Allianz - hikers in the forest

Hiking trips may just be Mother Nature’s greatest gift to mankind.

They’re a way to bond with family and friends, to soak in sunshine and fresh air, and to focus on your fitness and well-being.

Hiking trips are also a great way to explore your big back yard or blaze a trail to new destinations.

While you can go to your local park, hop on a trail, and be back home in an hour, anything more than that requires planning and preparation. With that scenario in mind, we’re here to share some tips for ensuring your next hiking trips are safe hiking trips. So, before you hit the road with your favorite walking stick — we call ours Sir Oaken McSmores — review these bits of advice. (And review Allianz Global Assistance travel insurance plans in the event the trailhead greets you with a nasty ankle sprain, lost tent, or some other unexpected twist or turn.)

Roll Call

Hiking is one of those outings where going solo vs. taking a buddy or two can lead to vastly different experiences. Taking hiking trips by your lonesome can be a spiritual getaway — a journey to reconnect with nature taken at your own pace and at a destination of your own choice.

But hiking with old friends, extended family, or new partners can be a revelation — a distraction-free bonding experience without equal.

There is one big consideration to make when you decide whether to go by yourself or make it a group hike: safety.

Taking any trip alone comes with inherent risks to your health and well-being, and hiking trips are not unique here. In fact, while something as seemingly minor as scraping your knee or running out of water can be handled fairly easily in a densely populated area, these can escalate into more serious situations if you’re on your own miles into a hike. For this reason, it’s even more important that solo hikers pack and plan with great care.1 (And it’s yet another reason to choose a travel insurance plan from Allianz Global Assistance. If you don’t have a real hiking buddy, you can have a virtual buddy thanks to 24/7 phone assistance with one of our assistance specialists.)

If you do invite folks to join you on hiking trips, and there are kids in tow, be aware of a few things. First — and this precaution goes for adults, too — start with a short, relatively easy hike to gage your range. And if you don’t make it to the top, the hill 2-mile mark, or other desired endpoint, don’t worry. Don’t push the kiddos too hard. Remember: if you don’t let them chase butterflies or examine every single rock along the way, they may not want to come on the next hike. Know that hiking trips with children are going to take a lot longer than a solo excursion — and then some.

One other potential hiking partner we failed to mention is Fido. Dogs are common sights on the trail and can be great companions to explore. Unlike kids, who may complain more than you like, dogs aren’t able to communicate discomfort or injuries as well. So, be sure to check them over at the beginning and end of each hike. Also, pay close attention to their vaccination records; you never know what you might encounter out on the trail. Finally, something fun: with a little patience, training, and coaxing, that pack on your back can be worn by your dog. Just make sure to pack some water and treats for your four-legged friend, too.2

Gearing Up for Hiking Trips

Packing right for a hike isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Is it a one-day trip or a week-long excursion? Are you climbing toward a snowy summit or trekking under a humid canopy of exotic foliage? And as we covered above, who — if anyone — is hoofing it alongside of you?

For these reasons, we’ll focus on providing some fairly general, yet still critically important tips for packing for hiking trips.

  • Put your best foot forward
    Appropriate footwear for your terrain of choice should be atop your list — as should be socks.
  • Make a mobile meal plan
    This means more than tossing a candy bar in your pack and slinging a canteen around your shoulder. For hydration, you’ll also want a plan for refilling along the way, which may include having a means of purifying water from a stream or lake. For food, aim for calorie-dense treats, such as granola and the aptly named trail mix. And don’t forget a trash bag to collect your garbage along the way.
  • DIY urgent care
    From ankle wraps and blister countermeasures to bug spray and aloe to treat a nasty sunburn, you’ll want to fill a first aid kit with items tailored to your environment and itinerary. Consider printing out an “Emergency Guide” in case you’re in the position of administering care for yourself or someone else that’s beyond your expertise.
  • Tool around
    A fancy multi-tool can provide everything you need to prep a campsite or prep dinner. A power bank for your cell phone might come in handy, too, but also realize that if you’re traveling to a fairly remote area, maps may be more reliable than GPS or any online wayfaring assistance. Lastly, your best friends on the trail may just be a flashlight (or headlamp), a lighter, and a whistle.3
  • Hike smart, TravelSmart
    This is the easiest item on your checklist to pack — it doesn’t take up any space. We’ve already mentioned just how key a travel insurance plan can be on the trail. It’s even handier when paired with our TravelSmart app, which you can easily download on your smartphone while packing for hiking trips. Not only does TravelSmart provide instant access to your travel insurance plan and allow you to track claims, but it also provides critical safety functions on the trail. These include locating nearby, pre-screened medical facilities in case of an emergency and connecting you to 24-hr. assistance in mere moments.4

Do Your Homework

From simple logistics, such as where to park, to more critical queries — “Am I experienced enough for this trail?” — doing your research before hiking trips cannot be underestimated.

While the first question will require some simple Googling, we can help with the second one right now. According to the American Hiking Society, the following trail ratings can guide your choice of what’s a good fit for you (and your group):

  • Easy: walking with no obstacles and low grades
  • Intermediate: 10% grade, small rocks and roots, easy scrambling
  • Difficult: 15% grade, large obstacles, possible scrambling or climbing
  • Extremely Difficult: 20% grade, 15+" obstacles, many harder sections5

Ratings are just part of assessing whether a hike is well suited for you. Even an “Easy” hike can be a struggle is this is your first time — especially if you’re trekking multiple miles. Additionally, a short high-altitude hike can feel like a marathon; know that above 8,000 feet, altitude sickness is a real threat.

This homework phase also involves investigative work such as being aware of local wildlife, knowing all possible weather conditions (and dressing accordingly), and also boning up on any local restrictions and regulations. Be able to answer these questions: are you sure you’re not blazing a trail through private property? What’s the best way to contact a ranger or other resource if you need assistance? Are there park alerts that can inform you if certain trails are closed or there’s a risk for wildfires?1

With the right plan for your hiking trips, the actual hike should be a breeze. Plan in plenty of breaks to hydrate, check for ticks, and soak in Mother Nature. And in the same way you don’t want to stray off the trail, be wary of straying from your plan unless you have a good reason to ensure the safety of everyone in your group. Happy trails!

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Sep 15, 2020